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Erotic Fickle Woman, Nudes, Lawyers Star in NYC Shows

"Sunrise" (2013), a spray paint and acrylic mural by AIKO. Two figures kiss on a blonde woman's back tattoo as she watches a Hokusai wave. Photographer: Ben Warren/AIKO/Japan Society via Bloomberg

March 20 (Bloomberg) -- Hair carefully coiffed, a woman looks over her shoulder as her kimono parts to reveal a swelling breast.

The erotic “Fickle Type” is a portrait by Kitagawa Utamaro from the series “Ten Types in the Physiognomic Study of Women” (1792-93), part of a show at the Japan Society.

In Hokusai’s “Under the Wave off Kanagawa,” from the series “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji,” surf claws -- advances like thousands of running feet.

An astounding selection of almost 100 ukiyo-e woodblock prints establishes the mastery and breadth of 18th- and 19th-century “pictures of the floating world.”

Included here are everyday images of domesticity, brothels, courtesans, landscapes, samurai, animals and actors by Hokusai, Hiroshige, Kunisada and Utamaro.

These celebrated masterworks fuse jostling patterns with fluid, voluminous line drawing worthy of Ingres and Matisse.

In “Edo Pop: The Graphic Impact of Japanese Prints,” historical and contemporary worlds collide: ukiyo-e-influenced artworks by 10 living artists from Japan and elsewhere are interspersed among the traditional images.

AIKO’s bold graffiti-inspired spray-painted wall mural “Sunrise” (2013) opens the show. Its bathing beauty -- with lovers tattooed on her back -- succumbs to Hokusai’s “Wave.”

I applaud “Edo Pop” for its mix of graphic punch and tradition-consciousness, but the show’s historical masterpieces reveal more limitations than strengths in the efforts of its contemporary artists.

“Edo Pop: The Graphic Impact of Japanese Prints” runs through June 9 at the Japan Society, 333 E. 47th St. Information: +1-212-832-1155; http://www.japansociety.org.

The Artful Recluse

Art is a lonely, private affair, and Asia Society’s beautiful, contemplative exhibition, “The Artful Recluse: Painting, Poetry and Politics in 17th-Century China,” notes that the practice of reclusion has had a history of more than a thousand years.

It examines a tumultuous period of political and cultural upheaval, when poets and artists withdrew from public life to seek solace in themselves, their work and nature.

Amid this show’s soft-plum and jade-green walls are creamy landscapes that express meditative states of mind. Within these painted poems, muscularity and melancholy intermingle.

The calligraphy of Qian Qianyi, though rambunctious, has the quality of a slashing sword.

In Gong Xian’s misty “Landscape,” it’s as if smoke had been captured on silk, while in Zhao Zuo’s long, foggy scroll “Streams and Mountains Without End,” the artist’s world is on the verge of disappearing.

“The Artful Recluse: Painting, Poetry and Politics in 17th-Century China” runs through June 2 at the Asia Society Museum, 725 Park Ave. Information: +1-212-288-6400; http://www.aisasociety.org.

Impressionist Line

If you haven’t seen the Frick Collection’s momentous show “Piero della Francesca in America,” running through May 19, now is the time.

The hallmark of that exhibition is Piero’s painting “Virgin and Child Enthroned With Four Angels,” on loan from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

During negotiations with the Frick, the Clark sweetened the deal. The result is “The Impressionist Line From Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec: Drawings and Prints From the Clark.”

This various and widely appealing show of works on paper extends from the stark realism and humorous caricature of Daumier and Courbet through the Impressionists to Cezanne.

Gauguin’s “Human Misery” imbues suffering with lyricism, while Degas’s dark and dreamy monotype “Three Ballet Dancers” depicts the young women as starbursts.

A suite of Toulouse-Lautrec prints closes the show. His lithograph “Woman Reclining -- Waking Up” makes the figure appear to be adrift on a raft, lost on a wild sea.

In images of children, nudes, lawyers, gods and beggars, the circus and the racetrack, Millet’s “Sower” and Manet’s “Execution of Maximilian,” “The Impressionist Line” draws a complete picture of modern life.

“The Impressionist Line From Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec: Drawings and Prints From the Clark” runs through June 16 at the Frick Collection, 1 E. 70th St. Information: +1-212-288-0700; http://www.frick.org.

(Lance Esplund is U.S. art critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Ryan Sutton and Richard Vines on dining.

To contact the writer on the story: Lance Esplund, in New York, at lesplund@gmail.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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